This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday defended the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and the state’s decision to resist open-records requests from a coalition of news organizations demanding access to agency files. “This isn’t a case of us trying to withhold information,” Haslam told reporters during a news conference at the Capitol. “We have a responsibility to protect children and a lot of the way that they are wanting that information I don’t think would do that.”
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for November was 7.6 percent, down from the October revised rate of 8.2 percent, Karla Davis, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, announced today. In contrast, the national unemployment rate for November 2012 was 7.7 percent, 0.2 percent lower than the October rate. The state’s November unemployment rate is the lowest rate since October 2008.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent in November, down from the October revised rate of 8.2 percent, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced today. The state’s unemployment rate and the number of unemployed Tennesseans are at their lowest levels since October 2008, according to a news release. The national unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in November, down from 7.9 percent in October.
Unemployment fell last month to a 4-year low across Tennessee and Georgia as the job market continued to rebound from its recession lows of two years ago. In Tennessee, the jobless rate in November plunged by six-tenths of a percent to 7.6 percent — the lowest rate since October 2008 — as employment grew and the size of the state’s workforce shrunk slightly. In Georgia, unemployment dipped by two-tenths of a percent last month to 8.5 percent. Although still above the comparable U.S. jobless rate of 7.7 percent last month, Georgia’s workforce and employment grew to the highest levels since early 2009.
Tennessee’s jobless rate for November fell to 7.6 percent, the lowest since October 2008. The unemployment rate was down from the October revised rate of 8.2 percent, Tennessee Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development Karla Davis announced Thursday. The national unemployment rate for November was 7.7 percent, 0.2 percentage point lower than the October rate. Over the past year, the state’s unemployment rate has dropped from 8.7 percent to 7.6 percent while the national rate declined from 8.7 percent to 7.7 percent, according to state labor officials.
State health officials hope a new law requiring doctors to check a database before prescribing certain drugs will help curb addiction and prevent deaths.The state’s controlled substances monitoring database has been around for several years, but its use has not been mandatory. As of Jan. 1, doctors and others who prescribe drugs will have to be registered with the database. By April 1, they will have to start checking it every time they prescribe certain powerful drugs, with limited exceptions. Also on Jan. 1, pharmacists will have to begin updating the database every seven days.
Before 2012, few knew the first thing about fungal meningitis – even doctors. And compounding pharmacies flew well under most people’s radar. That changed as moldy spinal injections sickened hundreds across the country. The outbreak first discovered in Nashville has killed 39 people nationwide, 14 in Tennessee. The husband of Joyce Lovelace is believed to be the first fatality. “He was hollering for me in the kitchen,” she said during testimony to Congress.
The holiday season is one of the most dangerous times of the year for motorists due to an increase in impaired driving. That’s why Tennessee state troopers will be stepping up enforcement over the Christmas holidays. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security troopers, the increased enforcement begins just after midnight on Friday and runs through midnight on Tuesday, Dec. 25. It includes saturation patrols, bar and tavern checks, and driver license and sobriety checkpoints.
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security on Thursday announced that the Tennessee Highway Patrol will be out in force during the Christmas Holiday period to ensure travelers reach their destination safely. Troopers will focus their attention on impaired driving and seat belt usage during the holiday, which began at 12:01 a.m. today and will end at midnight on Tuesday.“The focus of this effort is to save lives,” Commissioner Bill Gibbons said in a news release. “I urge all Tennesseans and travelers passing through our state to obey the laws designed to keep them safe, through the holidays and whenever they get behind the wheel.”
The battle to bring wine sales into grocery stores is set to begin again in Tennessee, although proponents are taking a different tactic. These efforts, led by grocers and convenience store owners, believe wine sales would boost their bottom lines and lead to more jobs and tax revenue. On the other side, liquor store owners, paired with temperance and religious conservative groups, claim such a move would destroy small businesses while taking jobs and profits out of Tennessee.
The first shots of the Great Wine Battle of 2013 were fired earlier this month, but the war itself has been going on for years. There have been several bills introduced to the state and local governement committees in the Tennessee House and Senate over the past five years that would have allowed wine sales in food stores, but none have made it to those government bodies’ floor for a full vote. In 2011, that bill was Senate Bill 316 and House Bill 406. Those bills were deferred, like their predecessors, effectively killing them without a vote.
Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is joining the advisory board of a conservative political group that recruits and trains Republican political candidates. The Blountville Republican announced this week that he will be part of the 2013 Legislative Leaders Advisory Board of GOPAC. Ramsey became the first Republican Senate speaker since Reconstruction when he was elected to the position in 2007.He says GOPAC was crucial to his early success in the Legislature. GOPAC was formed in 1978.
A national survey that gauges public health and emergency preparedness reveals Tennessee isn’t blazing a trail in the realm of preparedness but it’s not falling behind the national status quo either. The nonpartisan Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released their 10th annual “Ready or Not?” survey on Wednesday. The survey found that while there has been significant progress throughout the country toward improving public health preparedness over the past 10 years, there continue to be persistent gaps in the ability to respond to health emergencies, ranging from bioterrorist threats to serious disease outbreaks to extreme weather events.
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney has announced the hiring of Brent Leatherwood as executive director. In addition, TNGOP Political Director Michael Sullivan will be promoted to deputy executive director. “We have a great team at the TNGOP, and we are excited about Brent Leatherwood helping us lead our effort for the next two years,” Devaney said in a release. “ Brent has extensive campaign experience, and his knowledge of the state legislature will also be a valuable asset as we prepare for the 2014 elections and beyond.”
Some of the things that happened in Pigeon Forge’s Nov. 6 liquor referendum are enough to drive a teetotaler to drink. Or even lead an imbiber to hop on the sobriety wagon. Only bona fide city residents, or owners of property inside the city limits, were supposed to vote in that referendum. Liquor by the drink was narrowly approved by exactly 100 votes, 1,232 to 1,132. Yet there were 303 more votes cast in the election than there were qualified Pigeon Forge residents or property owners who signed in at the polls to vote.
State Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas is considering a run for the congressional seat held by embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. Carr, who last month won a third term in the state House, said Thursday that Nashville auto dealer Lee Beaman, a prominent Republican fund-raiser, will be chairman of his exploratory committee. Carr has been a vocal supporter of tougher immigration laws in Tennessee and last year sponsored a failed proposal to boost taxes on strippers and adult businesses to help pay for a reduction in the state tax on coins, bullion and investment income.
A state representative from Rutherford County is the first to take formal steps toward challenging Congressman Scott DesJarlais in a Republican primary. Joe Carr announced an exploratory committee Thursday. The new congress has yet to be sworn in. But since DesJarlais was re-elected in November, much more has come out about his participation in abortions. Court transcripts also show the physician from Jasper sleeping with patients. State Rep. Carr is already making the next congressional campaign about what he calls “family values,” saying voters want someone who practices what they preach.
State Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) says he’s exploring a bid for the 4th Congressional District and has formed a steering committee to help him determine whether he will run for the office. Carr would be the second statehouse Republican to consider challenging embattled Congressman Scott DesJarlais, who was caught up in revelations this election season that he pressured a patient he was dating to have an abortion. “The voters have told me that a trust has been violated. The voters want someone who not only lives by their values but will fight for them. The time for back slapping good ole boy politics is over and Tennesseans understand this,” said Carr in an emailed statement.
It looks increasingly like U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is in store for a long and hard 2014 campaign, the latest evidence being a fellow Republican who on Thursday said he’s testing the waters to challenge the embattled Jasper physician. State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lacassas, said he has formed an exploratory committee to “determine the viability of a successful run” against DesJarlais. The congressman, who has touted his anti-abortion views, was re-elected to a second term over a Democrat in November despite revelations DesJarlais had sexual relationships with two patients and once urged one of them to seek an abortion in 2000.
State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, is considering tossing his hat into the ring for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District seat come 2014. Carr announced Thursday the formation of a campaign exploratory committee focused on testing the waters for a potential bid, and he said this action is partially in response to the controversy that has surrounded the current man in that job, Scott DesJarlais. DesJarlais beat Democratic candidate Eric Stewart for the seat in November, despite revelations that the Jasper physician had affairs with at least two patients and pressured one of them to have an abortion before his election to Congress in 2010.
Nashville’s homeless and hungry are bound to suffer even more if the U.S. plunges off the so-called fiscal cliff, according to a report released Thursday. The report, released by the United States Conference of Mayors, surveyed cities such as Nashville; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco to gauge the growth or decline of people without adequate food or housing. It concluded that the majority of the cities, including Nashville, have seen increasing demands for such social services in recent years.
Next month in an Austin courtroom, two-thirds of the school districts in Texas will resume their argument that the state’s school finance system is inadequate and inequitable and that it creates a de-facto statewide property tax, forbidden by the state constitution. The school districts filed their lawsuit in October 2011, but Texas has been here before: Since 1984, the state’s school finance system has been challenged six times, most recently in 2005. In that case, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state, but schools have won earlier rounds of litigation.
Federal prosecutors are preparing to try three protesters who intruded at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, but the contractors apparently have not fixed the fence where they initially got in. The Knoxville News Sentinel took photos Wednesday at the perimeter fence of the plant in Oak Ridge. They show a vertical cut of about 41/2 feet that one of the protesters identified as the spot where the fence was cut. Protester Greg Boertje-Obed looked at the photos and said he was sure it was where he and two others entered the property on July 28.
The TVA vice president in charge of Watts Bar Nuclear Plant left the employment of TVA on Wednesday, but TVA will not say why. “Timothy Cleary will serve as acting site vice president for Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, effective immediately. Cleary replaces Don Grissette,” said TVA spokesman Ray Golden on Thursday. Golden said TVA will not elaborate on Grissette’s departure. The news came on the same day TVA announced Watts Bar worker incentives for the behind-schedule, over-budget new reactor.
Weather permitting, KUB customers will likely see lower electrical bills in February thanks to TVA lowering its fuel cost adjustment for January. TVA has raised rates eight times in the last nine months. The fuel cost portion of TVA’s January bill will be the lowest since September. Heavier rains in recent weeks have increased hydroelectric production which helped offset higher natural gas prices and allowed TVA to lower the rate it charges distributors for power, the federal utility said.
In a new twist on an old trend, manufacturing jobs are moving from Mexico to Tennessee. Economic development officials announced Thursday that Tomcat USA, a company that manufactures engineered structural trussing systems, will open a facility at 5427 N. National Drive, in the Forks of the River Industrial Park. The deal is expected to include an investment of $2 million and the creation of 50 jobs.Tomcat is a member of the Milos Group, which specializes in making modular display systems ranging from small booths to truss setups for large events.
After getting more than $1 million in economic incentives, Bell Helicopter has chosen Sullivan County for an expansion over two other production facilities, economic development officials announced Thursday. The move is expected to add 125 new jobs. Roughly 250 people currently work at the facility in the Tri-County Industrial Park. “Bell Helicopter is a good employer,” said Sullivan County Commissioner Dwight King, who helped secure the expansion. “They have good benefits.” Earlier this month, the Tennessee State Funding Board approved an $866,003 FastTrack Infrastructure Development grant for the project.
Hamilton County’s state lawmakers are telling Erlanger trustees to hold off on hiring a new hospital CEO because the 1976 law that set up the hospital is going to be overhauled in the coming year. “This hire is critically important to the success of the hospital,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, wrote to Erlanger board Chairman Ron Loving in a letter dated Wednesday. “I feel that a prudent delay will allow the Board of Trustees to have a clear understanding of how this legislation will impact the role of the chief executive officer.”
Relatively few students in Metro schools sought help from school counselors in recent days. Hundreds of counselors were prepared to respond after the horrific massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut one week ago. Metro put nearly three hundred counselors on notice after the tragedy, along with dozens of psychologists and social workers, figuring demand was about to spike. But that never came to pass, says Tony Majors, the district’s assistant superintendent for student services.
Hamilton County schools don’t have enough computers for students, according to a report discussed Thursday during a Board of Education session on technology. No schools meet the ideal 3-to-1 ratio of students to computers, and only a handful can claim a 5-to-1 ratio, said Patty Kinsey, Hamilton County Department of Education business systems analyst. Most schools have between seven and nine students for each computer, she said. The board is considering putting iPads into the hands of each Hamilton County student.
It’s back to square one in the search for a new city schools superintendent. The remaining two finalists for the post have dropped out, saying they want to stay in their current jobs, Oak Ridge Board of Education Chairman Keys Fillauer said. Both Roger Collins, superintendent of Nelson County Public Schools in Lovingston, Va., and Dan Lawson, superintendent of Tullahoma City Schools in Middle Tennessee, withdrew from consideration Tuesday. Fillauer said the candidates’ respective school boards might have sweetened new employment contracts after learning of their interest in the Oak Ridge job.
Parties involved in the negotiations over the future structure of public schools in Shelby County have agreed to an “intermission” for the holidays, with talks resuming after Jan. 1 and suburban charter schools potentially on the agenda. Some mayors of those suburban municipalities, disappointed by a federal judge’s decision to strike down a law allowing municipal school districts, spent about five hours Wednesday in talks with the Shelby County Commission and Memphis City Council. There were indications of optimism from all sides, though those involved continued to stick to the confidentiality agreement regarding specifics of the negotiations.
Inside a classroom at the Memphis City Schools Teaching and Learning Academy Thursday, MCS anti-gang specialists Cameron Hill and Eric Scott briefed school resource officers — the district’s in-house security team — on how to identify Crips from Bloods from Black Disciples, not to be confused with Black Gangster Disciples. Just outside, Lt. Timothy Enos of the Sarasota County, Florida, Sheriff’s Department, an instructor with the School Safety Advocacy Council, described a particularly resonant aspect of the weeklong training seminar he’s leading: how to prevent, plan for and respond to “active shooters” in schools.
Three people in Davidson County were arrested Wednesday on charges of manufacturing methamphetamines and possessing items used to make meth. Steven Fisher, 22, Frankie Jordan, 42, and Sharon Self, 42, were taken into custody on multiple charges regarding the possession and manufacturing of meth. A tip led South Precinct detectives to the 132 Karen Ray Court residence where Jordan and Self live, police said. Officers stopped Fisher for speeding after he left the residence where Jordan and Self live in Antioch.
The state’s Achievement School District is embarking on a teacher-pay schedule that has had teachers’ unions and their advocates at odds with school administrators for years. Teachers’ raises and bonuses in ASD schools will be based on how well students perform on standardized tests and what their principals see happening in classrooms. That is contrary to traditional pay schedules, which usually are based on seniority and educational attainment. Performance-based pay and bonuses are being promoted by education reform advocates in state legislatures and school districts across the country, along with paying teachers more to work in the worst-performing schools. It is an idea that makes sense in a district such as Memphis, where so many schools are failing.
Tennessee state House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, is providing the kind of leadership state government needs and taxpayers deserve. Her proposals to streamline House operations, reduce the number of bills filed and reorganize the committee system should be approved by the House Rules Committee when the General Assembly convenes next month. Each year, 3,000 to 4,000 bills are filed, but only a small portion of them make it out of committee to the House floor for debate and a vote. Yet all of them must be addressed by the House clerical and legal staff, assigned to committees and given consideration. That takes time and costs taxpayers money.
In the wake of the school shooting in Connecticut, many of us have been left looking for answers. Earlier this week, State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, floated the idea the he might present legislation that would give Tennessee school districts the authority to allow teachers to carry weapons into schools. Carr stipulated that he believes these teachers should be trained on how to properly use the weapons. While we believe Carr is simply going through the same sort of process the rest of us are experiencing in attempting to wrap our heads around a massacre that left 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School dead, his attempt to create a solution could potentially cause more problems. And while we believe his intentions are good, his answer seems to be based in the idea that more guns means less violence.
“Heartless” and “senseless” is how I’d describe Tennessee gun advocates in the wake of last week’s massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six educators died bookended by the death of the shooter’s mother and the shooter’s suicide. Even as the National Rifle Association had the decency to stay quiet, and some gun advocates admitted that it might be time to talk about some restrictions, Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris told The Tennessean: “Our principal goal is to remove all statutory and regulatory restrictions on firearms possession.”
Life is precious. As Mother Teresa put it, “God created each one of us, every human being, for greater things — to love and to be loved.” America is acutely aware of the preciousness of life this Yuletide after 20 first-graders and eight adults — including the killer and his mother — lost their lives in a spasm of violence one week ago in Newtown, Conn. Life is precious and has ever been thus, but the first killing came before the commandment not to do so. In Judeo-Christian tradition, the first human born on earth, Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother, Abel, in a jealous rage. “Thou shalt not kill” was written in stone on a mountain and handed to Moses centuries later. So now, after Newtown, we debate guns. So be it. This is as it should be. But Cain had no handgun.